The Einherjar and the Waelcyrge are the immortal Children of the Light that were born of the sea when the world was created. For five hundred years, they were charged with protecting the human race and preparing for the war that would one day come. As they anticipated the glory of fighting with honor, it never occurred to them that the final battle would be with each other.
This series, the EDDA OF BURDENS, seems to have gotten somewhat mixed reviews. Some readers don’t like the order of the books. By the Mountain Bound is the second book, which is the story that leads up to the last battle at the beginning of the first book, All the Windwracked Stars. Personally, I love it and wouldn’t change a thing.
I do have to admit that I had a hard time getting through one of the early chapters (I started to wonder if the title should be By the “Broke-back” Mountain Bound and yeah, I admit, the “rated R” sexual content wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it was heterosexual — Sorry, I’m old and don’t know better.) But once past those few pages, I realized this was an important element in the story, and I still grew to like both characters very much.
In fact, even though Elizabeth Bear has created a very original and engrossing plot, it’s the terrific characters that make this story work.
Anyone who read the first book or has a vague knowledge of Norse mythology already has a good idea of how this ends. Knowing the conclusion does not lessen its impact — and there are still a few surprises.
I’ve always had a place in my heart for the “few stood against many/ no hope of winning” stories, but to make that that theme to work, the reader really has to be able to empathize with the characters. I found that my admiration for the courage of Einherjar, the Waelcyrge, and the Valraven — the Waelcyrges’ war-mounts — was equaled by my regret for those that dishonored themselves to become “tarnished.” Even when one of my favorite characters commits a horrific act, my remorse for him outweighed the outrage that demanded justice.
By the Mountain Bound is the second book in Elizabeth Bear‘s The Edda of Burdens trilogy, but is actually set before the events described in book 1, All the Windwracked Stars. It explains how the final battle between the Children of the Light and the Tarnished came about, as well as the histories of some of the major characters of that book.
Muire, the main character of All the Windwracked Stars, returns in this novel, but the focus definitely shifts towards the other two viewpoint characters: Strifbjorn, the Warleader of the immortal Children of the Light, and his lover Mingan the Grey Wolf. Strifbjorn rescues what he believes is a mortal girl, but it quickly becomes clear that she is something very different… and her arrival will change the Children of the Light forever.
On the plus side, Elizabeth Bear’s take on Norse mythology is extremely original, and that’s not even taking the truly inventive addition of steampunk and SF elements of All the Windwracked Stars into account. Together, the two novels trace an impressive line from the mythical origins of the world to a gritty, almost post-apocalyptic future. By the Mountain Bound is simply a very original entry into the fantasy genre, miles away from your average medievaloid high fantasy. It’ll also be interesting to see if The Sea Thy Mistress (book 3 in the series, due in October 2010 from Tor) will go even further back in time, or if it will fill in the roughly 2000-year gap between the first 2 books, or take a different direction altogether.
Unfortunately, I found it hard to have any sort of connection with the characters in book 1, and found it even harder in By the Mountain Bound. In addition, if you’ve read All the Windwracked Stars, you already know how By the Mountain Bound will end: you’ll find out many details that were only hinted at in the first book, but at the same time it sometimes feels like watching a recording of a sports event when you already know the final score. Despite Elizabeth Bear’s beautiful prose and the originality of the novel’s concept, I found it hard to stay motivated enough to keep reading, because I didn’t care about any of the characters AND already knew what would happen to them.
If you enjoyed All the Windwracked Stars and are curious about how it all started, definitely check out By the Mountain Bound. It contains some powerful scenes, tons of beautiful, poetic prose, and a highly original fantasy universe. However, while I have the utmost respect for Elizabeth Bear’s talent, I simply didn’t enjoy By the Mountain Bound as much as I wanted to.